Whipworms of the Cat

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What is it?

Trichuriasis is a parasitic infection of the cecum and large intestine caused by whipworms, which are nematodes. 

Trichuris felis (syn Trichuris campanula, Trichuris serrata) is the cat whipworm. 

Feline whipworm infections are rare in domestic cats in the USA.

Eggs are extremely resistant in the environment and can survive for years.

Note that Trichuris trichiura is the human whipworm.

Where can it be found?

It can be found worldwide.

How does infection occur?

Infected cats pass unembryonated eggs through their feces into the environment. Eggs become embryonated (develop into first-stage larvae) and infectious in the environment. Another cat can then become infected by ingesting an embryonated egg with infective first-stage larva from the fecal-contaminated environment (direct life cycle).

What are the clinical signs?

It may be asymptomatic (have no clinical signs). If there are clinical signs, clinical signs include large bowel diarrhea, bloody feces, mucus in feces, tenesmus, frequent urgent defecation, flatulence, weight loss, anorexia, protein-losing enteropathy, dehydration, and pale mucous membranes. Vomiting, lethargy, polyphagia, abdominal pain, hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease)-like clinical signs are possible with severe infections (neurological signs possible with severe hyponatremia). Intussusception and death are also rarely possible.

How is it diagnosed? 

Diagnosis can be made via fecal flotation, but eggs shed intermittently and in low amounts, do not float well, and may therefore be missed with a single fecal flotation. Other diagnostic tools are ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and PCR (polymerase chain reaction). Imaging may display intestinal intussusception.

Due to the long prepatent period, diarrhea can start prior to the pet shedding eggs.

What are the treatment options?

Some of the medications your veterinarian may prescribe are fenbendazole, milbemycin oxime, or moxidectin. Due to the prepatent period being approximately 3 months, treatment recommendation is for at least a 3-month period. Since the eggs are extremely resistant in the environment and can survive for years, another recommendation is to repeat treatment every 3 to 4 months or to maintain the patient on monthly heartworm prevention with efficacy against whipworms. If your pet is dehydrated, additional treatment such as IV fluid therapy may be needed. Depending on the clinical signs and lab findings for your pet, additional treatment options may include correcting electrolyte abnormalities, iron supplementation, and/or blood transfusion. It is also recommended to disinfect the environment, and to provide monthly prophylaxis post treatment.  

A follow-up fecal flotation is recommended 1 to 2 weeks following treatment.

How can it be prevented?

Prevention consists of keeping your pet on good quality anthelmintic monthly prevention with efficacy against whipworms, as well as picking up feces promptly from the environment to help limit environmental contamination and spread of disease. 

The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends monitoring for disease by performing fecal flotations approximately 4 times in the first year, and then approximately 2 times per year for patients on good quality monthly prevention.  

Can my cat infect humans or dogs?

Zoonosis (infectious disease transmissible from non-human animals to humans) or infection to dogs are not of a big concern due to the host-specific nature of the parasite. Note that the pig and wild boar whipworm, Trichuris suis, for example, can cause zoonosis (infectious disease transmissible from non-human animals to humans). 

For Veterinary Professionals, refer to our app, VetpocketTM, for more in depth reference material including treatment dosing guidelines.

*Disclaimer: The information is not intended to replace clinical judgement or guide individual care in any matter. Please check any information and values prior to use and use at your own risk.